Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Do general practitioners miss dementia in elderly patients?

British Medical Journal 1988; 297 doi: (Published 29 October 1988) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1988;297:1107
  1. D. W. O'Connor,
  2. P. A. Pollitt,
  3. J. B. Hyde,
  4. C. P. Brook,
  5. B. B. Reiss,
  6. M. Roth
  1. Hughes Hall Project for Later Life, Cambridge.


    General practitioners and community nurses were asked to rate the likelihood of dementia for each of their elderly patients. Cases of dementia were identified by research psychiatrists using the Cambridge mental disorders of the elderly examination (CAMDEX), a new structured diagnostic interview. General practitioners correctly identified dementia as at least a possibility in 121 of the 208 cases found. Nevertheless, they mistakenly rated as demented several patients suffering from functional psychiatric disorders, in particular depression. Community nurses correctly identified dementia as at least a possibility in 64 of the 74 demented patients known to them, but they incorrectly suspected dementia in a greater proportion of instances. Both general practitioners and families appeared to have low expectations of what general practice has to offer demented elderly people. General practitioners should take the initiative in diagnosing dementia in very elderly patients who show signs of the condition. In some cases it may be secondary to treatable disorders, and in others all that may be required are understanding, support, and advice to families.